"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


“The Masonic system represents a stupendous and beautiful fabric, founded on universal purity, to rule and direct our passions, to have faith and love in God, and charity toward man.”
— William Howard Taft

Monday, November 12, 2018

Minnesota Mason Fatally Shot


A Minnesota Freemason was shot and killed by a police officer last night who was responding to a fire alarm call at his home. Brother James Paul Hanchett, 61, of Shakopee, Minnesota was a 22-year member of Minnesota River Valley Lodge No. 6

According to preliminary reports, when police arrived at the house, he met them at the door and leveled a handgun at them. The police officer feared for his life and fatally shot him multiple times.

From a story on the Shakopee Valley News website this morning:

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension identified the Shakopee police officer who fired his weapon as Officer Thor Carlson, who has been with the Shakopee Police Department for 12 years. He has been placed on standard administrative leave, according to a BCA press release.

Based on the preliminary investigation, officers from the Shakopee Police Department responded to a fire alarm call at 823 Apgar Street South at 11:08 p.m. at the request of an alarm company. When officers attempted to make contact with the occupants of the residence, they encountered Hanchett at the door.

Officers were met at the front door by a man holding a handgun, according to the Shakopee Police Department. According to police, the man raised his gun and pointed it at one of the officers, who feared for his life and shot the man. Officers began performing life-saving measures on the man but he was later pronounced dead at St. Francis Regional Medical Center, according to a Shakopee police release. He died at 11:50 p.m., according to the medical examiner's report.

BCA crime scene personnel recovered a handgun from the scene. The officers were wearing body cameras and the incident was recorded, police said.

The BCA is continuing to conduct interviews and evaluate the body camera videos and other evidence from the scene to determine the events that led up to the shooting. When the investigation is complete, the BCA will turn its findings over to the Scott County Attorney’s Office for review.

According to Hanchett's obituary, he enjoyed fishing and hunting, loved his cat, Elliot, and was a Mason with the Minnesota River Valley No. 6 Lodge.
This story will be updated. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Saved By the Mystic Tie? - Mason Awarded French Legion of Honor

Brother Harry Wolfe congratulated by Guillaume Lacroix, Counsel General of France for the Midwest
On Tuesday of last week, Brother Harry A. Wolfe, longtime member of Englewood Lodge No. 715 in Indianapolis, was made a Knight of the French Légion d'Honor at a special ceremony in Franklin, Indiana at the Indiana Masonic Home, now known as Compass Park. The 98-year old veteran of the Normandy Invasion on D-Day was honored by Guillaume Lacroix, Consul General of France for the Midwest region of the United States. Present were representatives of Vice President Mike Pence and Governor Eric Holcomb, Congressman Trey Hollingsworth, Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett, Gen. Martin Umbarger (Ret.), and almost 100 other family members and friends.

Brother Wolfe was severely wounded during combat along the Seille River on the Lorraine front on November 8, 1944, and he credits his Masonic ring for perhaps saving his life at the hands of German medics.

The Order of Légion d'Honneur was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, and is given to reward military and civilian service to France.


Private Wolfe wasn't drafted, he enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 28, 1944, and became a rifleman for Company G, 318th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division, under the command of Gen. George S. Patton. 






“Everybody who lived in our society in those days realized that it was time we had to go to war. Our civilization was in terrible shape. Someone had to come forth and get rid of Nazism,” he said. “Thank God, we were the ones who went.”
Wolfe went from Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis to Camp Blanding, one of the primary training centers for replacement troops during the war. He was schooled in skills such as orienteering, marksmanship and lobbing grenades. His unit completed miles-long marches, spending nights at a time out in the Florida wilderness before finally completing a 25-mile hike.
The 17 weeks at the camp transformed him into a soldier. “I was 130 pounds when I went in, and I gained a pound a week, so I was 147 pounds when I went to war,” he said.
Wolfe and his unit left the U.S. in September 1944 aboard the Ile d'France, a luxury liner that had been repurposed as a troop ship. They arrived in Scotland, took a train to southern England and then was transported across the English Channel to Normandy Beach.
Throughout late September and October, he made his way to the front lines in eastern France.
[SNIP]
On the day he was injured, Wolfe and his unit were slogging through mud and rain on a mission to cross the Seille River as the Army pushed towards Germany.
Machine gun fire and mortar rounds forced them to sprint across a flooded channel, sliding in the mud for cover. Moments later, Wolfe was struck with what he described as “like the kick of a mule.”
His fellow soldiers forced a pair of captured German medics to treat his wounds in hopes of saving his life. After the soldiers left, the Germans could have easily shot him, or left him to die. Instead, they cleaned and dressed the wound, put on a tourniquet and covered him in rain gear.
Wolfe was a member of the Masonic Lodge; he had been inducted as a Master Mason in the organization the night before he shipped off for war. His wife, Elsie, had given him a beautiful ring to mark the occasion and he was wearing the ring when he was shot.
With no other way to explain their compassion, Wolfe believes they may have recognized him as a Mason.
“These two medics stepped aside and started mumbling between the two of them. They must have seen my ring, because they gave me the best kind of treatment I could have,” he said. “I often wonder if that wasn’t a brother Mason.”
Miraculously, the bullet that struck him had missed ligaments and the main artery, so his leg did not need to be amputated. Following surgery, Wolfe was returned stateside for his rehabilitation. After the war, he worked in the finance department at Fort Benjamin Harrison, then Job Corps, and eventually for the Internal Revenue Service. He lived much of his adult life in Vermont, Indiana and Arizona. 

For his bravery during combat, Harry has also been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the European African Middle Eastern Ribbon with one Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.
Seven weeks ago, he moved to Franklin and into Compass Park. Bill Pierce, administrator of the skilled nursing and rehabilitation center there says that, even in such a short time, Brother Wolfe has had an impact on those around him.
“Harry, to me, is the embodiment of an American soldier,” he said. “He’s a representation of what can happen in times of war. He’s representative of the battle scars, and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice."

The cities of both Franklin and Indianapolis declared November 6th, 2018 to be “Harry A. Wolfe Day.” Lacroix and local military leaders, Command Sgt. Maj. James Brown, director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, and Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger (ret.), former head of the Indiana National Guard, all spoke about the impact Wolfe and his fellow soldiers made to the liberation of France in 1944. He was also presented with letters from Vice President Mike Pence and Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb honoring him.

He's been a Freemason for 72 years.

Read the rest of Brother Wolfe's story HERE. 

A video report from WXIN 59 can be seen HERE.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Oklahoma Masons Withdraw Recognition of GL of Arkansas


THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED AT 12:30AM 11/11/2018:

Oklahoma Masons have just voted to withdraw recognition of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. Late this evening I have received several messages out of the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma that took place in Guthrie today. 

The vote was overwhelming: 558 Yes to 179 No. 

The Grand Lodge of Oklahoma VERY briefly withdrew recognition of Arkansas before  in 2016 by an edict of their then-grand master, but that quickly lapsed and amity was restored that same year. The Grand Lodge of Kansas also suspended recognition of Arkansas earlier this year.

The continuing saga with the Grand Lodge of Arkansas F&AM is too complex to explain simply here. According to reports from Oklahoma tonight, the principal justification for the withdrawal of amity has been an ongoing lack of due process for Arkansas Masons, which has made it difficult if not impossible for their former members to seek membership in other states. Reportedly, the final nail in the coffin today was an impassioned speech by a Medal of Honor recipient from Arkansas who begged Oklahoma to take this action.

The "Yellow Book" of Oklahoma's 2018 Reports and Resolutions is available online, and contains a summary of the situation on page 34, and the Resolution voted upon today, which reads in part:
Since 2012, the Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of Arkansas is known to practice removing members of the Craft from their jurisdiction who have not committed a masonic offense (e.g., cannot be a Shriner and an Arkansas Mason), and without due process (in essence, no right of appeal of sentence, or other remedy for grievances permitted). The basic due process of law is a citizen's right, guaranteed by the U. S. constitution (Fifth Amendment, ratified September 25, 1789; and Fourteenth Amendment, ratified July 9, 1868), and cannot be excluded under the guise of a trial process of a sovereign fraternal entity.
As no remedy has evolved over the past six years and none is foreseen, the committee recommends the Grand Lodge of A.F. & A.M. of the State of Oklahoma suspend recognition of the Grand Lodge of F. & A.M. of Arkansas, until the provision of due process of law is provided for by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas; and that the Grand Secretary notify their Grand Master accordingly.

Should the Craft adopt this recommendation the following impact would take
effect for Oklahoma.
First, no impact would be felt on the interactions of the Adult and Youth Orders, as Oklahoma and Arkansas Masons would be performing their roles as Masters Masons in their Adult and Youth Orders capacity, and they would not be involved in a tyled Masonic Lodge.
Second, no impact would be felt on the interactions of an Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite or York Rite functions, as they also meet in the role of their Order. They may meet in a Lodge facility but not in the tyled recesses of an ancient craft Lodge.
Lastly however, an impact would be felt with Oklahoma and Arkansas Masons meeting in each other's tyled recesses of a lodge.
Meanwhile, little information has managed to trickle out of Arkansas over the last 18 months or so. A Facebook site run by an anonymous Arkansas Mason continues to report that their trial commission retains its 100% suspension and expulsion record. I remain more than willing to print any communication, explanation, or response here by the Grand Master of Arkansas or their members at any time. 

This story will be updated if new information becomes available.


Why He Left, and Why We Need To Care - A Lot

L-R: Bro. Salman S. Sheikh, GM S. Eugene Herritt and Bro. Mohammed AlJumaili
Fred Milliken over on the Freemason Information blog site posted an article yesterday that every Freemason needs to read. And then read it again. And read it in your next stated meeting. And go back and read it again at least once a year. 

Grand masters and grand lodges—at least in the Anglo-American Masonic world—are continually obsessing over bringing new members into our lodges. Year after year, they nervously await the latest figures on membership statistics, and go out and try to put on a positive face when it drops another 5%, leaving the U.S. fraternity at levels we had prior to World War I. 

If I see one more editorial about "Appealing to Millennials," I'm going to start drinking again.

The truth that no one wants to face in Freemasonry is that we get plenty of new members every year. Plenty. But an enormous percentage of these fresh, eager new Freemasons are initiated, passed and raised, attend our business meetings, mingle with our members, see a couple of more degrees, maybe read a handful of books... and then they leave, in less than two years, on average. That is failure at the local lodge level. No grand master or grand lodge drives away new Masons by the barrel-full. Individual Masons and lodges do that all on their own. Why do they leave in such huge numbers? We apparently don't seem to give a particular damn as an institution, since we almost never ask them.

We have no business bringing another man into this fraternity until our own existing members learn to love it and live its teachings so much that new Masons won't leave as fast as they joined. 

Case in point: Fred put up a long essay by a young man who joined a lodge, believing what we claim about ourselves. 
Brother Salman S. Sheikh is a young Sufi Muslim man, and he joined a lodge at age 24, eagerly wanting to learn all he could about our philosophy and our symbolism, and wanting to truly be a part of that legendary brotherhood we like to call ourselves. He bought into all of the lofty pronouncements of Masonry being about meeting "on the level," about tolerance and brotherhood, about our mission to enlighten our own members, about the constant search for "more light in Masonry." He didn't make anything up in his head, he simply believed what Freemasons say about ourselves.

And he left after two years. He demitted because he encountered "bigotry, ignorance, and the total opposite of what a Mason really is."


Brother Sheikh tells his own story in his own words, so I won't paraphrase him. Please read his whole essay, "Why I Left Freemasonry: The First And Last In My Family To Do So." And then take a good, hard look at your lodge, your own words, and your own behavior, in real life, and especially online in what has become anti-social media these days. If you or the members of your lodge are actively engaging in un-Masonic conduct, in person or online, there are consequences for that. When you discourage excited Masons who are eager to study and explore the more esoteric teachings of the fraternity, there are consequences for that.

When Masons leave, the worst thing we can do is to not ask them why, and at least see if we can change conditions to prevent it in future. Brother Sheikh did us a favor by explaining his reasons in print, and offering up his own conclusions about it:

"My last advice to the Freemasons is that if you want this to continue to survive in a future where the young ones are keen with artificial intelligence and info at the palm of their hands, then you need to offer them something new that hasn’t been shown to them before. The practice of memorizing sacred texts, being on a chair/committee, contributing to charity is something that can be found in every church, synagogue and mosque throughout America. The real question is, what are you willing to help them realize in an environment where relationships, family, jobs, spirituality is on a totally different playing field then our previous generations? Once this question is addressed along with letting in clean hearted quality people, then we won’t hear the same tune every month of why the same 6-7 guys are showing in a lodge with 4-500 members. It’s a simple solution which if followed can be beneficial to the organization along with not showing them the same stuff every meeting and not letting Past Masters run their lodges. Give the new guys a chance, otherwise they will just see it as another boy’s club and move on with other adventures in life that could benefit them more. It’s a shame for me to say this but I learned more on my own and with likeminded spiritual people I had met before I even became a Mason than I have ever learned in a lodge or appendant body. That should not be the case."
I was engaged in a heated discussion last week with a Brother online. When I brought up the scary statistic of the number of new Masons who depart the fraternity in under two years, he actually responded, "Who needs a bunch of half hearted seekers of knowledge? Let them leave!" Brother Sheikh wasn't half-hearted. He truly WAS seeking knowledge - he hunted it, he begged for it, just as he had wanted real brotherhood. He tried to study it, research it, talk about it. He was excited. Instead, he found a hollow shell of what he was promised. And he encountered a clot of Masons who ignored their obligations and went right on publicly engaging in boorish behavior that was deliberately insulting, repugnant, and un-Masonic. 

Why would he have stayed?

Brother Sheikh hadn't joined some isolated rural lodge, or in a jurisdiction that some have looked down on as backward. He was in suburban Philadelphia, right in the East Coast region that likes to tout itself as more 'cosmopolitan' than the residents of flyover country, or the rural South, or the cornfield states that begin with "I." No, this problem is endemic, and we're lying as long as we point our fingers somewhere else and claim "It's those OTHER guys." And the Internet only makes the problem worse, because what a Mason says or does five states or a half a continent away still pops up every day online. After two years, Brother Sheikh decided that looking for another lodge wasn't the answer, because the un-Masonic behavior was too widespread. 

That's a broad brush, I know. But it is also reality, if enough people believe it.

Last year the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts did video interviews of several men who had joined a lodge and had demitted relatively quickly. Massachusetts did what almost no other jurisdiction has ever bothered to do: They asked WHY. And recorded the answers. If you are a grand officer or a district deputy or a membership committee member in another jurisdiction, do yourself a favor and contact Massachusetts to see a copy of it. And actually listen to what these men are saying about the fraternity they joined with such eagerness, and then left. Almost all of them regarded their decision to leave as a sad and tragic situation—they had been eager to join, and left only reluctantly. You all need to know why, and get your lodges to make some serious course corrections. Or encourage the creation of new lodges that understand.

Brother Sheikh's message makes it clear that he is looking for - and finding - what he sought in other places now. He sums up by saying:
"In conclusion, I am thankful for these last 2 years for what they were worth to make a difference in the organization of Freemasons in my state, country, and other nations to teach them the forgotten values of a true Mason and the true nature of one who listens to his heart and walks the path of God. I departed at age 26 in good standing and still have a lifetime ahead of me to do great things for other groups that are meant to cross my path. I am thankful to be the first in GL of PA’s history to do a program on Sufism and make the effort to bring Masonic understanding and unity while others are just worried about their legacies. My greatest legacy will be that I will remain in the hearts and minds of the Freemasons forever and that means I also live forever which is more important than statues or my name appearing in Grand Lodge digest decisions. Please continue to love each other in and out of lodge and practice what you preach because God’s all-seeing eye will hold us all accountable one day for all our seen and unseen actions. Before your meetings start, do a hand in hand meditation so even the brother who feels left out can feel a part of his brotherhood instead of looking bored or playing on his phone. I want you all to think about all these things I have addressed in my final message and I leave that burden on your shoulders from this point on with the mission of how you will carry this fraternity forward for future generations and not be in a desperate situation to keep numbers up. When your heart, mission, members, teachings, online image, etc. is all pure and designed to empower somebody then worrying about numbers should be the least of your worries because at the end 'My Faith is in God and God is my right.'"


There's an old saying that "You are someone's image of Freemasonry." Every one of us needs to take that to heart.  I wish I had gotten the opportunity to meet Brother Sheikh before he demitted, because he understood that. 

As long we as have members who say of our own Brethren who depart, "Let them leave," we will continue to shrink and fade. 

And that is a fate that the fraternity has earned all by itself.


The letter and Fred Milliken's commentary on it can be found HERE: "Masonic Anti-Intellectualism A Crying Shame"



UPDATE 11/12/2018: 

And then there's the flip side. 

A very good friend and Past Grand Master is very fond of quoting Cassius speaking to Brutus in Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves..."

Yesterday Fred posted a follow up story to this one, and I urge everyone to read it as well. It's by a Brother who also decided to leave, because he too felt let down by the fraternity and what he saw as its shortcomings. And then he realized that perhaps the problem was really his own expectations when he joined.

And then he came back.
It was this shift in my perspective that lead me to realize that Freemasonry still had a great deal to offer, but only if I was willing to seize it. I was fortunate in the fact that I came to this realization on my own. I fear that few brothers in my shoes will do the same. Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that it never gets to that point in the first place...
See Bait & Switch, I Quit or Why I Left - Part 2 HERE.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Masonic Book Fair in Paris 11/17-18





In the U.S., most Masons are blissfully (or deliberately) unaware of obediences outside of those that are declared regular and are recognized by their own grand lodges. In this country, that's pretty easy to do. If you're in a mainstream lodge, you probably don't think very much about it. If you're in a Prince Hall lodge, it's sometimes a tighter circle, but you're still probably at least aware of what the mainstream world is doing, and in all but nine states, you also have options to intervisit. But virtually no one in these two largest Masonic bodies in America have any idea what goes on in the other various independent, female or mixed Masonic obediences here, and all of our paths cross so infrequently (apart from online, perhaps) that the subject almost never arises at all.

That's not the case when it comes to France.

While U.S. grand lodges only recognize the Grande Loge National Françcaise, there are no less than sixteen substantial grand bodies and obediences of Freemasons at work in that country – male, female and mixed, regular and irregular. But instead of deliberately ignoring each other and pretending that the others don't exist, French Masons tend to be far more cordial and laissez faire than we are. There are numerous cultural and historical reasons for that which simply don't exist elsewhere in the Masonic world.

Case in point: If you've ever visited a Masonic bookstore in that country, you know that the French have an insatiable appetite for books about Freemasonry. Albert Mackey once lamented that American Freemasons don't read. French Masons aren't afflicted with that character quirk. Consequently, each year, the Institut Maçonnique de France (Masonic Institute of France) hosts an enormous book fair in Paris for the purpose of promoting Masonic literature throughout the entire French speaking Masonic community. 

It's a shame that we don't have anything similar in this country.

The Salon Maçonnique du Livre de Paris (Masonic Salon of the Book in Paris) on November 16-17 will be its 16th year. This year's venue will be at La Bellevilloise at 19 Rue Boyer, in Paris' 20th Arrondissement.

From their press release:
Organized by the Institut Maçonnique de France,  this event is a unique opportunity for all audiences to discover Freemasonry by the prism of culture and literature in contact: from a village composed of the 16 main persuasions of French Masonry of over 60 authors and designers of many publishers of books, magazines, comics.
To answer all your questions, you will be able to meet and attend and participate in ten roundtables, three conferences, as well as the many signing sessions.
Seven Literary awards from the Institut Maçonnique de France including the coveted humanism prize, will be delivered on Sunday, 18 November 2017, in the
Visitors will also be able to win books during a raffle organized Sunday November 18 at the closing of the salon.
The 16th Masonic Salon of the Paris book is:
- free and free entry for any public- 16 French persuasions present- 10 round tables- 3 conferences- dozens of book publishers, magazines and comics- more than 60 authors confirmed- books to win- catering on site and many restaurants and breweries nearby
For lunch at the exhibit hall's restaurant, reservations are mandatory by e-mail. Contact: Eric Algrain, Salon Commissioner 06.07.99.61.73 ea.imf@orange.fr
Information about the Institut Maçonnique de France can be found at http://www.i-m-f.fr


Sunday, November 04, 2018

Iconic Washington Painting Restored at the GW Memorial

George Washington as Master of His Lodge (1932) by Hattie Burdette
(Image before its restoration)
On Thursday this past week, the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria proudly reinstalled a famous Masonic portrait of Washington, dressed in the regalia of Worshipful Master of Virginia's Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22. The Memorial recently undertook the task of having the original painting restored, and it now hangs near the Memorial's South Lodge Room.

It was just in time. 

This evening - Sunday, November 4th, 2018 - marks the 266th anniversary of the initiation of then 20 year-old George Washington into the Lodge at Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1752.


If this portrait looks familiar to many of you, it should. The portrait was commissioned in 1931 by Freemason and U.S. Congressman Sol Bloom for the George Washington Bicentennial Commission, and painted by artist Hattie Elizabeth Burdette (1875-1955). It depicts Washington presiding as Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, gavel in hand. If not the most famous image of Washington as a Freemason, it's arguably the most widely circulated one that is seen regularly in lodges all across the United States. Yet, it was commissioned by a Congressional committee and paid for by the government, not Masons. Imagine such a proposal today.

How is it that this particular painting of Brother George dressed as Worshipful Master wind up in so many American lodges? According to William D. Moore and John D. Hamilton's detailed essay, 'Washington As the Master of His Lodge: History and Symbolism of an American Icon',

New York Congressman Sol Bloom, director of [the Memorial] and a member of New York's Pacific Lodge No. 233, took pride in his agency's insistence on "realism." In consultation with F. Walter Mueller, a member of Century Lodge No. 100 in South Orange, New Jersey, Bloom reviewed many Masonic portraits of Washington before rejecting them all as inaccurate. He then hired Burdette to- create a portrait in which the figure was based upon Houdon's statue of Washington while the overall work incorporated the relics maintained by Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22... As well as appearing repeatedly both in the Masonic press and in publications of the Washington Bicentennial Commission, more than fifteen hundred photolithographic reproductions of Burdette's painting were distributed by congressmen to Masonic organizations throughout the United States.
Brother Sol Bloom
Brother Sol Bloom represented the 20th Congressional District (Manhattan's west side) in the House of  Representatives, serving fourteen terms from 1923 until his death in 1949. During the critical years leading up to and through the end of World War II, he was Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and he later went on to become one of the first signers of the United Nations charter. 

Prior to his congressional career, he had been both a newspaper and music publisher. He also understood showmanship. Early in life he was a theatrical and boxing manager, and he had been the creator of the Midway of the famous Chicago Columbian Exhibition in 1893.

In 1931, Bloom was named both chairman of the Congressional George Washington Bicentennial Commission and the director of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial's Bicentennial Committee, commemorating the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth the following year. On that date, the new Masonic Memorial towering above Alexandria would be dedicated and opened to the public. Bloom requested eight Washington D.C. area artists to each create a poster which would be used to promote the official government-sponsored national celebration of Washington's birthday in 1932. Artist Hattie E. Burdette asked permission of Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22 to use their lodge room and Washington's Masonic gavel, sash, Past Master's jewel, his chair, and other items to depict in her painting. 


Teft Johnson, George's stand-in
Her model was Teft Johnson (photo), an actor who portrayed the role of Washington in several historical plays under the direction of famed Broadway producer David Belasco. Of all the posters submitted, Burdette's was selected by the Commission to advertise the Memorial's dedication.

On November 29, 1931, Congress and the National Bicentennial Commission decided that second week of May in 1932 would be set aside as Masonic Week. Consequently, May 12th would be the official opening and dedication of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Invitations to this gala event were sent to thousands of American citizens and to regular Freemasons around the world. Although not a Mason himself, President Herbert Hoover and the First Lady were among the first to accept the invitation. Others included every member of Congress, the Justices of the Supreme Court and members of President Hoover’s cabinet, along with all 49 of the Grand Masters of the U.S. The mayor of Alexandria, the governor of Virginia, and many other government, military, religious and civic leaders joined the celebration. 

President and Mrs. Hoover leaving the Memorial on May 12th, 1932
As bad luck would have it, a torrential five-day downpour nearly ruined the ceremony - 50,000 attendees and onlookers had been expected and planned for, but the rain and flooding kept all but 1,500 from climbing the long driveway and attending at the Memorial itself. Bleachers outside sat wet and empty as reportedly hundreds of onlookers watched from the bottom of Shooters Hill safe and dry, huddled in railroad coaches at the Alexandria train station. Those who could manage to get inside the Memorial jammed into the 400 seat auditorium for the various speeches, far exceeding the Fire Marshal's directives.

On September 17, 1932 Teft Johnson again portrayed Washington for a reenactment of the President laying the cornerstone of the United States Capitol with full Masonic ceremony. The cornerstone ceremony reenactment was filmed by the Bicentennial Commission.

I am told with as much confidence as is possible that reproductions of Hattie Burdette's painting were circulated to every U.S. lodge possessing a charter in 1932, and that even today, every lodge in Virginia still has one hanging in its building. The original hung in the U.S. Capitol throughout 1932, and was then gifted to the George Washington National Masonic Memorial when the year was over.

And to come full circle, the historic Bible upon which young Brother George placed his hands that evening in Fredericksburg 266 years ago when he took his obligation as an Entered Apprentice is still preserved by Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4. The lodge has recently started a restoration fund to have the fragile book properly curated for future generations. We were honored to have it here in Indiana for our Grand Lodge Bicentennial and the Conference of Grand Masters this year.


Friday, November 02, 2018

GL of Scotland: A Different Kind of Grand Lodge Video


Have a look at the video on the website of the Grand Lodge of Scotland's website about the origin of Scottish Freemasonry. Beautifully done, and a great example of thinking outside the box when creating these types of programs. 


Of course, they have a major advantage because, you know... it's Scotland

Scottish hills. History. Tradition. Music. Robert Burns. Rosslyn Chapel. Edinburgh High Street.

And a brogue that everybody else thinks they can imitate.

Watch it HERE.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

SC Lodge Takes Battle With Town Public


Lexington Lodge 152 in Lexington, South Carolina took its battle with their town public this week. In recent months, the Town of Lexington has been attempting to acquire the lodge's property to use as an overflow parking lot for a proposed downtown Springhill Suites by Marriott hotel. The story originally came to light in September when the first sabers were rattled by the mention of the use of eminent domain by the town to seize the property at or below market price. Lexington originally offered $300,000 for the lodge property, which was immediately laughed out of the park by lodge officers and trustees. (See SC Lodge Battling Over Eminent Domain HERE)

On October 28th, Lexington Lodge's Secretary, Charles D. (Dick) Keyser posted a public letter (read it HERE) revealing details of discussions with the town and their current position. According to his letter, the the town attempted to hide its initial purpose by offering out of the blue to "pave the lodge parking lot for free" without disclosing the Marriott deal. When news of the Marriott development leaked, the lodge seemed to be in the way of bigger forces.

Lexington lodge 152 has owned and been located on the same property for almost 150 years. It was chartered at this location in 1869, eight years before the town itself was officially established. They intend to stay there "for Eternity."

The lodge has estimated a replacement cost to relocate and build a new temple of approximately $1.5 million, while the City has counter offered just $450,000. Keyser wrote that the lodge has told the town council that, "if the relocation cost were less than $1,500,000, any money left, minus $20,000, would be returned to the Town of Lexington. The $20,000 would be donated equally between Lexington Interfaith Community Services (LICS) and the Shriner’s Hospital for Children by the Town of Lexington and Lexington Masonic Lodge 152." 

In response, the town's mayor, Steve MacDougall reportedly said in an executive session of the town council, "Condemn it."

MacDougall denied the account on Facebook, and has now dragged the lodge negotiations into the heated local political race for Mayor. 

From today's The State article, "Could a 149-year-old Mason lodge become a parking lot?":


That prompted MacDougall to post a statement on Facebook denying the Masons’ accusation. He also accused Town Council member Ron Williams, who is challenging MacDougall in Tuesday’s mayoral election, of sharing private council discussions with the Masons and advising them to sue the town.
Williams said he does not remember any conversation during which he advised the Masons to sue the town. However, Williams said he did tell them that if the town tried to take the lodge, he would be on their side. 
“My job is to represent the citizens of the town, not the town interests,” Williams said. “If I feel any citizen of the town is being taken advantage of by the town, I’m going to defend that citizen.” 
Williams wrote in an email that he has hired an attorney “to verify I have done nothing wrong.” 
“Steve MacDougall wants me out of the race and he’s shown publicly and in private that he is willing to do anything to keep his seat,” he said.
Randy Browning, a member and past master of the lodge, which houses one of the longest-standing charitable organizations in Lexington, told The State the town was trying to use the lodge property in one way or another to benefit an incoming Marriott hotel that is slated for a nearby plot of land. Williams said that when the lodge conversation first came up in council, he did not have knowledge of the incoming hotel, though MacDougall had been in talks with developers. 
MacDougall would not say if he generally supports using eminent domain — the right of government to take over property in the interest of public use — for economic development. Most council members said they would not support use of eminent domain.
Though it has been in the same spot since 1869 — eight years after the town was founded — the lodge is not protected by a historic or preservation designation, Browning said, because the organization didn’t think it was necessary.
“Who would expect that somebody would want to come in and just take over your facility?” he said.
[snip]
MacDougall said in an interview this week that the Masons have not responded to the town’s latest offer: to pave the parking lot, plus a piece of a neighboring lot to be used for hotel parking and allowing the members to use select spaces. The Masons set a deadline to respond by Dec. 31, MacDougall said. Yet in the open letter on the watchdog blog, the offer is called “unacceptable.”

MacDougall, in his Facebook post published Oct. 30, said that taking the property through eminent domain has been discussed, but that option always is considered when town officials negotiate a land deal. The post said the council agreed that condemning the property “was NOT an option.”
The mayor went on to say Williams “broke his oath” of office by telling the Masons after a closed-door town council meeting that they should “sue the town.”
MacDougall said he learned about Williams’ conversation with the Masons from one of their members, and that the conversation was the reason for the Masons questioning the town’s motives, which led to tense discussions.

The Masons could not be reached for comment about negotiations.
(MORE HERE)

2019 Masonic Week Schedule Available Now


The 2019 Masonic Week schedule has been published. This annual event will run from February 20-24 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia (a stone's throw from Washington DC, the Reagan International Airport, and the Pentagon). Masonic Week traditionally hosts annual meetings and degree conferrals of lesser known Masonic organizations, many of which are invitational bodies.

The following groups will be represented this year: 
  • Commemorative Order of St. Thomas of Acon
  • Masonic Order of Athelstan
  • Grand Council of Universal Craftsmen
  • Allied Masonic Degrees
  • Order of Knight Masons
  • Society of Blue Friars
  • Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests
  • The Royal Order Masonic Knights of the Scarlet Cord of the United States of America
  • The Masonic Society
  • Philalethes Society
  • Rectified Scottish Rite (CBCS)
  • Ye Antiente Order of Corks
  • Noble Order of Muscovites
  • Grand College of Rites
  • York Rite Sovereign College
  • Sovereign Order of Knights Preceptor
  • Masonic Order of the Bath
  • Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisteres and Bricklayers (aka “The Operatives”)
The official registration form has not been posted yet, but the hotel reservation form is up and running. So keep an eye on the page for upcoming updates.

Monday, October 29, 2018

What's In a Building?

Our Past vs. our Present.
“In an age in which we travel from private houses in little enclosed metal boxes on wheels into private office cubicles and then back again…there is precious little sense of shared experience in our lives, or at least precious few times in which shared experience is expressed in terms of a common physical place.”
– architectural critic Paul Goldberger
What's In A Building?

Freemasonry is a fraternity constructed around the allegory of the architecture and building trade. Our prior brethren had a pretty good understanding of that allegory and how it related to the building of character in Man. Because of that, many of them were inspired to take that allegory a step further and apply it to our Masonic Temples beginning in the last decades of the 19th century.

My post earlier this month about an unnamed Masonic Temple that was recently sold to non-Masons (see 'Once Upon A Time') attracted an enormous number of readers. Obviously it struck a chord with many Brethren around the U.S. and Canada. Unfortunately, the Brethren who are members of the two lodges that moved out of that unnamed building were upset that I turned attention on them, even anonymously. 'You just don't understand,' they said. It was an albatross around their necks and wallets, they love their new surroundings now, "and a lodge is not a building," goes the familiar refrain. And they have better parking. 

All very true. 

I understand these problems better than they can possibly know. Not just anecdotally or academically, either. I've been in the trenches of historic preservation since I was thirteen years old, and the very first money I made in a job as a teenager went to help preserve the past. I was on the Board of Directors for a railroad museum when I was 16. As an adult, in my job of 25 years I helped maintain an historic mansion that had cultural significance which housed our offices and studio. I served on the Temple Board for our massive downtown Masonic Temple that was neglected for decades, had a brief revival, and now sadly again faces abandonment because they lost their vision all over again. And I also served for many years as a Trustee for a suburban lodge that shoved its aging early-1900s temple overboard in favor of an ugly, anonymous 1960s office building. So I'm not just talking out of my hat. I know the problems, the costs, and the challenges.

Masonic lodges don't need a building at all, and it's arguable that we began losing our way when we started going into the real estate business. Frankly, there are a thousand times more fights and arguments and lost friendships over building problems than almost anything else in this fraternity. I can make a convincing argument for dumping every one of them and meeting solely in private hotel spaces and dining rooms, if all we want to be is Kiwanis with aprons. Perhaps that setup would be ideal, if every lodge had just 36 members with at least a 50% participation rate each meeting. But we all know the 'back to the tavern movement' isn't really an answer for most of us in mid-sized and large lodges in America. And no U.S. grand lodge is ever going to voluntarily enact rules demanding and enforcing lodges of no more than three dozen members.

I don't argue for a BIG building, nor do I argue for a building that solely exists for its age or its monumental bigness. I DO argue that preserving a significant cultural, historic, and architectural treasure is a duty that has been thrust on many Freemasons, like it or not. And  we as Masons and our communities suffer when we allow them to crumble, fail or be destroyed.

But more to the point, I am arguing for important Masonic Temples, whether they are a huge antique marble barn on the corner of Main and State Streets, or a brand new steel barn in a cornfield. Or anything in between.



I. Our Alabaster Albatrosses

Why did we all do it? Why did the Masons and all of the other major fraternal groups of the late 19th and early 20th centuries erect so many enormous stone piles across America between 1900 and 1929 that we are now fleeing at an ever faster clip?


Detroit Masonic Temple
Part of it has to do with wanting our special clubhouses to contain what we regard as a 'sacred space.' When our great-grandfathers built these enormous Temples, they weren't just creating an elaborate tree fort to play in. They regarded them no less important than a statehouse building or a large church. They understood architectural theory then, or they had members who were architects themselves, and they believed a sacred space should look like one, inside and out. That's why they called them Temples, and not merely halls.


Ocean Lodge 89, New Jersey
When the doors of the lodge room are closed and the meeting is opened, the room itself is deliberately designed to be a sanctuary from the chaotic maelstrom of the world outside. It contains imagery that appears nowhere else in the rest of the world and sets the mood conducive to introspection and concentration. Or it should. In lodge, all arguments and differences are to be set aside and brethren meet on the level, without question. 

Sure, that may be a utopian version of Freemasonry, but in practice, it actually works pretty well. And proper surroundings reinforce that psychologically.


Knights of Pythias Castle, Indianapolis
The other reason was simple competition. The larger fraternal organizations in our towns were in head to head competition with each other, so they built these bigger and more majestic buildings to impress: to impress visitors, their towns, potential petitioners, and instill pride in their own members. 

Daniel Burnham's Chicago Masonic Temple 1891 -
Freemasons had erected the tallest skyscraper in the world at the time
The big building boom happened during the time of the City Beautiful Movement that had begun with Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893. That famed architectural period preached the gospel that you didn't erect a major, significant building in a city or town unless it was artistically beautiful, substantial, and most important, that it contributed to the overall beautification and improvement of your entire community. 


1893 Columbian Exposition and the White City
That world's fair was dominated by the vision of superstar Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, who had designed the tallest skyscraper in the world erected two years before, in 1891 - the dazzling Chicago Masonic Temple. But the centerpiece of the Fair was the 'White City,' named for the temporary structures made of plaster that depicted a majestic city of classical designs, surrounding its central lagoon. It was a celebration inspired by the overarching theme of John Ruskin's famed 1846 essay, The Seven Lamps of Architecture"When we build, let us think that we build forever," (even if Ruskin favored Gothic over Neo-Classical...).

In the fashion of the Fair, classical architecture with bright limestone and Grecian columns replaced the dark, foreboding, red brick Romanesque style favored in the post-Civil War, pre-1900 era. Ugly buildings and haphazard development depresses people, went the theory. Planned communities, on a huge scale, would be the answer to creating tranquil cities that would silently help to quell social unrest and blunt the tumult of the Industrial Age. Happy people would achieve better things, and so the city was to reflect art and learning and the Classics. In other words, build big, build beautiful, build for the Ages To Come, or don't bother to build at all. Anything less was bad for the whole community. 

Companies, institutions, and even architects don't really ascribe to that philosophy anymore. And we can save the argument over whether that is good or bad for our communities for another day. The point is that American Freemasons of the early 1900s grabbed the bull by the horns and started building majestic and significant temples. 
It became a nationwide embrace of the Pillar of Beauty that Freemasons enshrined in our own ritual.



II. He Speaketh Treason: Appearances Do Matter

The Danish language has a word: aerekaer. It’s a combination of both honor and pride. It's an expression of concern about your own honor, and about how other people will see and regard you.

When you drive through the average town in America, it's usually pretty easy to spot the distinctive pre-1940s Masonic Temple, if it is still standing. Until the end of WWII, you could generally spot the Masons' location in any given town just by driving around within a few blocks of City Hall and looking at the façades. 

What goes on in there?

Not today. The bulk of those downtown locations have been abandoned, and the Masons have moved to cheaper land, with bigger parking lots, and generic meeting halls.

There is no doubt that the overriding sense of price-driven cheapness and instant gratification of pre-fabricated steel buildings that can be ordered over the Internet have taken their toll on the architecture business (that, combined with the practical demand that our roofs not leak). Even huge corporations – outside of Apple and arguably Cabala's – don't build 'important,' distinctive buildings anymore. But the truth is that the deterioration of our older Masonic buildings today, combined with the construction of new lodges resembling tool sheds in corn fields — featureless on the outside and horrifically planned on the inside – no longer impress anyone. More and more lodge buildings since the 1960s are strictly utilitarian sheds for the conferral of degrees, the holding of business meetings, and the dishing up of bad food in the sterile looking dining hall. They are no more significant or distinctive than a garage for farm implements or boats, storing auto parts, or a veterinary office.

There's no wonder that Grand Lodges have dissuaded the use of the term 'Temple' over the last three decades, because these types of buildings seem to be anything but that. The sadder truth is that we have no reason to impress anyone anymore because we have outlived our competition. The result is that, like an old, abandoned Bonanza steakhouse, we are now looking shabby as a fraternity. 


Behold! The Pillar of Beauty?!
But it's cheap to heat and roof doesn't leak.

I'm going to say something that is anathema to many Masons these days: appearances really do matter. You know that it matters to you in your daily life and interactions with others, so there's no sense in denying it when it comes to our own fraternity. Or as the comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently said about appearing before his audience, "That’s why I wear a suit. It’s a signal: I’m not loafing here."

When we say we "make good men better," don't we mean 'better' in EVERY sense of the word? Why doesn't that start with better surroundings and a better outward appearance?

Put it another way: when Freemasonry looked impressive to the outside world, we looked significant to the public and to ourselves, and we attracted the most influential members in our entire history. We thought we were the best of the best, and we treated ourselves accordingly.  We expected better, and we got it. No longer. Today, the world drives right past our generic sheds without a second glance. They don't even notice we're here.

Apple Store, New York City

Apple Park, Cupertino, California

Since I brought up Apple, take note of their architectural philosophy, from their huge new 'space ship' corporate headquarters, to their individual retail stores: there's no misconstruing who's in those buildings and what goes on inside. They spend an enormous amount of money and thought to make sure no one mistakes their buildings for anything but an Apple store. Why? Because they have aerekaer. They have bags of it, and they care very much how they appear to the world. Apple's products are not overwhelmingly superior to Samsung's in terms of the tasks they accomplish, but they have created an aura about their company, their wares, and consequently, their customers themselves. And they have much higher standards below which they will not go. There's a vital lesson to be learned there.


III. A Masonic Lodge is Sacred Space


Ste. Chappelle, Paris
Impressive buildings, both inside and outside, inspire people and put them in a different mindset. The medieval cathedrals that our forebears constructed were designed to awe all who entered, making them feel as though they were surrounded by a majestic force far greater than themselves. In short, they were built to impress and they were deliberately designed to create a psychological mindset. Everywhere your eye falls inside of a medieval cathedral is supposed to transport you into another spiritual plane. The congregant or penitent feels that he is in the presence of God. The stone walls fall away, the ceiling soars to heaven, and all of the colors of the world and the universe beam down upon you, bathing you in the light of God and His creation. That was a deliberate vision of the architects, because sacred architecture was supposed to be different from anything else on Earth.

It's special.

We have a plaque over our lodge room entrance that says in Latin, "Bidden or unbidden, God is present." Like a church (whether your lodge members realize it or not), a lodge room also represents a sacred space - a non-sectarian one, with its own peculiar symbolism, to be sure - but a sacred space nonetheless.  It's not a place of worship, but a sanctuary. And its goal should be to place your fellow Masons in a psychologically different space than the outside world. Just like a church is deliberately designed to do.

That isn't done with threadbare furniture, peeling paint, rotten carpet, faulty lighting, and walls covered in hardware store panelling or a a vast expanse of powder blue cinder blocks.

So, let's say the argument is long over. Let's say that you don't have an old magnificent temple to save anymore, because your lodge made that decision long before you got there, and now you're currently gathering in a bland, faceless, anonymous building today. 

Even in cases where a building's exterior is ugly, an opportunity exists to use that in your favor, from a design standpoint. You can still impress in a cinder block warehouse or a pole barn if the Masonic Temple itself inside of it that the candidate or Mason enters is beautiful, inspiring, maybe even startling, or in some other way incredibly distinctive on the inside. 
In fact, when a lodge room is situated inside of an anonymous warehouse or office building on the outside, encountering a surprisingly atmospheric Masonic space on the inside is like opening a beautiful and unexpected gift. In short, a room that puts that candidate or those members into a different place spiritually, philosophically, or psychologically. Or just plain makes them feel better when they enter. 



This has absolutely nothing to do with money, age or size of a building, or even size of a lodge's membership. Consider that even the famed 1880 'Lodge Room Over Simpkin's Store' in Colorado managed to convey this sense of atmosphere and sanctuary in an attic room with the barest of resources. In fact, it's actually heightened by the closeness of the tiny room. 

IV. 'Sacred' Doesn't Equal Big or 'Old'


Lexington Lodge 1, Kentucky
Bear one last thing in mind. When I argue for the deliberate design of sacred space in a Masonic lodge, that does not automatically mean hang on with a death grip to everything old in your Temple building. Even in a pole barn lodge building, there's no reason why a Mason shouldn't find an inspiring Temple. 

John Ruskin wrote, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.” 

In the coming weeks, I will share some images to try to jumpstart your thoughts about how to make your own lodge room into more of a sanctuary from the outside world than it perhaps may be now. The examples will be from around the world, and may be very, very unlike what you are used to finding in the average American Masonic Temple. And in almost every case, I will ignore the exterior entirely. 

Because it's the internal, you know...


Riom, France
In most cases, they will be contemporary designs, and nearly all of them look VERY different from the average U.S. lodge room. And each and every one of them looks very distinct from the others. Money isn't the deciding factor – imagination, ingenuity, and love and understanding of the fraternity and its symbols is the real answer. And a little artistic flair helps. 

Paris, France

Broad Ripple Lodge 645, Indiana
Regardless, whether your lodge is in an old building or a new one, a huge temple or an anonymous office park, the time is long past to be rid of ugly, uninspiring, and downright embarrassing lodge rooms in America. It's long past time to get to work. 

Because to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, 'It’s a signal. We're not loafing here.'